Who Are the Best Polyglots in History?

Most of us are very impressed when we meet someone who speaks several languages, but some people go beyond bilingualism and become hyperpolygots.

In the course of history, some language enthusiasts have taken up the challenge of learning not one or two but dozens of languages. Some have even claimed to master no less than 100 distinct languages and dialects, which is very impressive when you know how difficult it is to learn a single new language.

Here are five of the most impressive polyglots in history:

1. John Bowring

The British political economist, traveler, writer, and fourth governor of Hong Kong, John Bowring, possessed many talents, but he is perhaps best known for his love of languages.

During his lifetime, Bowring claimed to know 200 languages and to be able to speak 100. Despite an active political career, Bowring pursued a secondary career by translating folk songs, poetry, and literature from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Spain.

2. Guiseppe Gaspardo Mezzofanti

Cardinal Guiseppe Mezzofanti is one of the most talented polyglots in history.

Although this Italian theologian had an extensive knowledge in many areas, his true passion was linguistics.

He was known to speak at least 39 different languages, ranging from Hebrew to Gujarati, as well as dozens of other dialects (some say he may have spoken almost a hundred languages and dialects).

During his life, he was professor of Arabic at the University of Bologna, then professor of Eastern languages and Greek, while learning languages, conducting missionary activities and maintaining the Vatican library.

He was a linguistic genius so well known that at his death, people from all over Europe fought for his skull.

3. Ziad Fazah

This Lebanese currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest number of languages spoken. Fazah claims to be able to read and speak 58 languages, including Arabic, Polish, Thai, Urdu, Norwegian and many others.

While Fazah proved his abilities in some tests, he also had some major failures, including a particularly disastrous appearance on Viva el Lunes, a Chilean TV show, where he did not understand beginner level sentences in Finnish , Russian, Chinese, Persian, Hindi and Greek, languages that he claims to speak fluently.

4. Kenneth Hale

It should not be particularly surprising that an MIT language teacher is also a reputed polyglot. Hale's studies at MIT focused on endangered languages, particularly those in North America, Central America and Australia. Hale did not just study these languages, he also learned them himself, about 50 languages.

What is most amazing about Hale, however, is the speed with which he was able to learn a new language, often having a basic conversation after only 10 to 15 minutes of listening to a native speaker.

5. Georges Dumezil

The famous French philologist Georges Dumezil is best known for his work on mythography and social classes.

This academic work was, however, facilitated by his love for learning ancient languages.

Dumezil's linguistic studies went beyond classical languages, and at his death he was said to speak or read more than 200 languages with varying degrees of fluency.

More informations about Polyglots

If this young hyperpolyglot continues to learn languages at the pace he has learned so far, it could be part of history! See his video below:

- See the article: Maximum Number of Languages a Human Being can learn in his life,
- Find Polyglot Friends on the Polyglot website :)

What did you think about this article: Do you think it's humanly possible to speak so many languages? Please leave a comment below.

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timmi88 profile picture timmi88September 2022
vincent profile picture vincentSeptember 2021
Very impressive!